Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

This past weekend I was asked to make some cupcakes with a patriotic theme in honor of Memorial Day. I have seen lots of different ideas, so I took a few of them, combined them and used ingredients that were available to me to make these cupcakes. They are quite good, not because of anything I did, but because they are strawberry-vanilla. Strawberry vanilla is one of those classic flavors. It reminds me of creamsicles, Italian sodas from the coffee shop where I worked, and strawberry shortcakes. I think its a wonderfully festive flavor for this day, because strawberries, Memorial Day, and barbecues are synonymous with the arrival of summer-there is something inside of all of us that says summer is truly here!
Maybe this recipe wasn't here for your Memorial Day celebration, but they would be great for 4th of July, Veterans Day, or Columbus Day, for that matter. Anytime you decide to make them I am sure they will be well received.
I made my own frosting, which really was a cinch, and tastes great, but if you are in a rush, by all means, buy some frosting. I also think they would look adorable if they were decorated with red licorice ropes and/or stars cut from some blue Airheads or something.

Patriotic Strawberry Vanilla Cupcakes

For the Cupcakes:

1 box white cake mix
1 cup water
4 egg whites
1/3 cup corn oil
1/3 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup strawberry jam
1 teaspoon red food coloring

Preheat oven to 350. Combine cake mix, water, egg whites, corn oil, sour cream, vanilla, and salt and blend until smooth. Place in prepared cupcake liners. Microwave jam for 30 seconds. Add food coloring and mix well. Place about ¾ teaspoon of the strawberry mixture onto the center of each cupcake. Use a butter knife to gently fold the strawberry mixture into the cupcakes, being careful not to overmix. Bake for 16-21 minutes.


1 cup shortening
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract
4 cups powdered sugar
3 to 4 tablespoon milk

I dyed the blue frosting using a sky blue and a bit of violet. The red I achieved by adding A LOT of Christmas red, and cocoa powder.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Easy as Pie

Part of my original purpose for creating this blog was to have a place where I could write and record my favorite recipes. Instead of having magazines, recipe cards, recipe books, and boxes, I wanted to be able to keep all of my recipes in one place, that I could access at any time (which, actually, has turned out to be quite helpful).
I also wanted a resource, as I have mentioned in the past, where people could find simple recipes for everyday items.
An extremely common household recipe that people seem to need is pie crust. I find it interesting that most recipes call for ready made pie crusts, and many people I know do not like their own pie crust recipe. I started making my own crust as a teenager, and the recipe I found that worked for me had egg and vinegar. I had tried my mom's shortening crust and it was just horrendous for me. It worked great for her, but when I tried it, it was a dry lump of dough that I couldn't get to do what I wanted.
After a bit I lost my pie crust recipe. I searched high and low and couldn't find the same recipe. I tried to recreate it from memory, but it ended up quite vinegar-y tasting. I tried my mom's again, and I tried to experiment with some other crusts. I wasn't happy with mine for about a year and a half.
I received a copy of Bon Appetit's cookbook for Christmas one year. It had a pie crust recipe that was made entirely out of butter, so I decided to give it a try. It came together in the food processor, and worked like a charm. I really, really loved the texture. If you didn't know this, shortening makes crusts short, like shortbread cookies. They crumble in your mouth. Butter makes pie crust flaky, because the pockets of butter in the crust melt while its baking and the resulting steam creates little air pockets. Anyway, I really love it. I've won a couple of bake-offs with it, too!
Just a little side note, if you have a hard time with crust, try empanada dough, also called cream cheese dough. It is less finicky than butter, and seems to work like a breeze. The texture is a bit different but its still great, and its great to start with. So, I have included both, here:

Easy Cream Cheese Pie Dough

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar (omit for savory crust)
Pinch of salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 package cold cream cheese, cut into 9 pieces

Place flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of the food processor and process for 10 seconds. Add the cold butter pieces and process for 8 to 10 seconds, until the mixture looks like bread crumbs. Add the cream cheese and pulse 30 times (1-second pulses) or until large, shaggy clumps of dough form.
Turn the shaggy mass out onto a work surface and knead gently 2 or 3 times to create a cohesive dough. Flatten into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until you are ready to use it.

Butter Pie Crust Dough
(from Bon Appetit)

2 1/4 cups flour
1 Tablespoon sugar (omit for savory crust)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 Tablespoons (or more)  ice water

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter, using on/off turns, cut in until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 6 Tablespoons water. Using on/off turns, blend just until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; divide dough in half. Flatten each piece into disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour, or up to 2 days.

Pie Crust (from Amish Cooking pg. 182 - This is, by the way, the BEST pie crust recipe you'll ever find anywhere)
3 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1 c. shortening
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
5 tbsp. ice water
1 tsp. vinegar
Mix flour and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in shortening. Combine egg, water and vinegar. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture until a soft dough forms. (If necessary add more ice water 1/2 tsp. at a time). Divide dough into two or three equal portions.

Pie Crust (adapted from pg. 182, Amish Cooking by Pathway Publishers)
Yield: 2 single crust pies OR 1 double crust pie
2 c. all purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. vegetable shortening
1 egg
5 Tbls. ice cold water
1 tsp. white vinegar

Sift the flours, spices and salt into a medium sized bowl. Cut the shortening into the flour mixture until mixture forms course crumbs. Beat the egg; add the water and vinegar. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Stir with a fork until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured pastry cloth. Gently kneed the dough, 3-4 times (DO NOT knead the dough excessively). Divide the dough in half. Form the halves into disks and roll out, using a cloth covered rolling pin

Monday, May 23, 2011

A rose is a rose

It is very important that it sounds good. Have you ever noticed how menu descriptions are? Sometimes they make me giggle because they are redundant or absurd, and sometimes they are outright disturbing. Like the restaurant we ate at for breakfast while travelling through Washington. One of their sides was 'SOS'. 'What's that?' I asked my husband. In a hush voiced he explained it to me. Why would I want to order that?
Maybe its name is deceptive, I thought to my self. Well, sure enough, one of my companions ordered it and I tried it. The thick mass of white gravy was all wrong. Way too much hamburger and no other seasoning. It was very aptly named.
There is also the matter of how much description you use. Names, like "sauteed chicken" sound so boring, while on the opposite end of the spectrum you have names like "Poulet Saute aux Herbes de Provence" which can be discouraging or daunting if you don't speak French, and yet you would be eating the same thing.
I fear I have to gift for fanciful names that inspire people. When I am asked for the names of my dishes I usually reply with something boring like, "chicken, uh....with white sauce?" Somehow I make it sound like a question. My mom is usually the one asking. As she did when I made this dish. It might not sound amazing, but its pretty darn good.

Rosemary Roasted Red Potatoes with Parmasan
5 fist-sized red potatoes (my fist, or about the size of a baseball) 
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons rosemary, very finely chopped
1/4 cup Parmasan cheese
3 cloves garlic, smashed

Preheat the oven to 400. Cut the potatoes into bite size pieces, try to be uniform in size so they all cook at the same time. I usually cut them in half, then in half again, then cut those pieces into thirds. Place them in a 9x13 baking pan. Drizzle with the olive oil, then sprinkle with the remaining ingredients. Toss to coat. Place in oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, toss, then bake for an additional 20 minutes more. They might need a bit longer. Be sure they are tender when pierced. If they are browning too quickly, cover with foil.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What they say

I wanted to give you a recipe that I am really excited about. I'm excited about it because it is really easy, turns out great, and it's a HUGE hit! They can be made ahead of time, and taste great days later, they are fun, festive, and hip, and you are going to absolutely love them.
Cake pops.
We've all seen them at Starbucks, and when I was doing a tea party last weekend, I thought it would be really fun to have them as a dessert. Now, they are fairly simple to make, but it took me several hours to make 150 of them. This is how easy it is: bake a cake mix of your choice in a 9x13. when its cool, break it into pieces. add frosting. shape into balls. place on a stick. dip stick in chocolate. Pretty easy, right? And let me tell you, they are good!
The original recipe that I found tells you to dip them in candy bark coating, but I'm not a big fan of the flavor of candy melts, so I compromised and added some semi sweet morsels to get a better chocolate flavor, but still take advantage of the firmness that candy melts offer.
The other thing I really like about these is the sky's the limit for creativity. You can top them with nonpareils, drizzles, nuts, whatever! You can make them any color or flavor (strawberry lemonade is next on my list), and they look impressive.
So I will give you a recipe for chocolate (they were AMAZING) and you can change it for your preference.

Cake Pops
makes about 30-35, depending on the size
1 box chocolate cake mix prepared according to package directions, baked in a 9x13
1/2 tub chocolate frosting (or 1/2 cup homemade)
16 oz brown candy melts
8 oz semi sweet morsels
1 package 6" lollipop sticks (we found them at Michaels)
block of Styrofoam, etc that you can place the pops in to dry in an upright position
decorations of your choice (we make some rocky road by adding almond slivers and marshmallow pieces)

As soon as the cake is cook, break it into pieces in a large bowl. Add the frosting and mix until thoroughly combined. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Shape the mixture into uniform balls, making 30 - 35 depending on the size you want the cake pops (I would recommend somewhere between a ping pong ball and a golf ball. They will be bigger once you dip them in chocolate)
Place them on the baking sheet, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
If you have a fondue pot, it works great for this step. If not, make a double boiler-place 2 inches of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and place a glass bowl over the pan with your candy melts and chocolate chips in it. You can also do this in the microwave, although I wouldn't recommend it because the chocolate will cool too quickly, you will have to reheat, and risk ruining the chocolate).
Leave the chocolate for 1 minute, then begin stirring to combine. Once completely melted, dip the lollipop stick into the chocolate, and insert into the flat side of the cake ball (the side that was on the pan). If the room is warm (over 72) you may need to refrigerate again at this step for about 20 minutes.
After you have dipped all the sticks, and chilled if necessary, start with the first lollipop and dip into the chocolate, turning as you do so all sides are covered. Lift out and gently tap on the side of the pan. If you tap too hard you will lose the cake ball into the chocolate. If the cake ball comes off anyway, return the entire pan to the refrigerator and chill for 10 minutes longer.
Add desired toppings, and place cake balls into Styrofoam, or other stand while they cool. Alternatively, you can use cupcake papers and set the cake balls in them and serve that way. (it is probably a bit less stressful, but no less fun)
Allow chocolate to cool for about 20 minutes, and you're all set! These keep great for about a week (I'm sure they won't last that long...)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

and more chicken

There are some meals that, no matter how many times you make them, they never grow old. Everybody has favorites, but I haven't met a person who isn't impressed with this dish. I discovered it quite a while ago in a magazine, which was demonstrating a technique for sear roasting, a method of cooking that has you sear a piece of meat over high heat, then finish it in the oven. This is the way I cook most often. It is quick, the flash of heat ensures you seal in the juices, preventing the meat from being dry, and you can finish it with any sauce you want. I cook white fish, salmon, beef, and chicken this way quite often. The sauce that was showcased with this recipe is very versatile, and can be adapted to many meats and drastically changed with just a few minute substitutions. It is basically a take on buerre blanc, the French butter sauce.
The original recipe called for white wine, but chicken stock is an acceptable substitution. This is the dinner my sister wants on her birthday, and my husband requests almost every time I am planning meals. It's a hit every time. There is some lemon juice and rosemary in the sauce, which, in my opinion, are perfectly complimentary flavors. The sauce is also great on salmon, and feel free to mix it up a bit for beef-it would be delicious with some dijon and tarragon for a zippy beef dish.
This is also great for company, because you can fry up all the chicken pieces, place them on a baking sheet and finish them in the oven. Everybody's food will be ready at the same time no matter how many you have.

Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce
Serves 4

4 4-oz chicken breasts (if they are large slice them in  half lengthwise, or pound them into cutlets)
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon minced rosemary
2 Tablespoons minced shallot (about one clove)
1/2 cup chicken stock
juice from 1/2 a lemon
4 Tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 450. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat a few teaspoons of vegetable oil over high heat. When the oil is shimmering add the chicken pieces and cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or the edges are brown.
Move the cooked chicken pieces to a glass baking dish, laying each piece flat (don't overlap them). Place in the oven for 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken cutlets (the temperature should be 165 F.)
Meanwhile, add the rosemary and shallots to the pan and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and continue cooking until the stock is reduced to a few tablespoons. Add the lemon juice and remove from the heat. Add the butter a tablespoon at a time, whisking until it is incorporated. The sauce will begin to look lighter and thicker. Spoon sauce over cooked chicken.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What's in a name

If I am unsure about what to make, I often ask my husband his opinion. This happened recently when I was trying to decide what type of cupcakes to make. I have made a whole list for my catering business of different types, with candy bar themes and ice cream shoppe themes, etc., and I just couldn't decide which type to try first-they all sounded so delicious to me. Before I could even recite the list to my husband, to let him know what his choices were, he immediately answered: Red Velvet. Now, I don't think he has ever even  had Red Velvet, but that was the choice he made. I remember eating it as a child, and I wasn't too terribly impressed. For Christmas this last year, my husband bought me a Red Velvet cake mix from a bakery. I tried it out and wasn't too impressed with the results. I figured I just don't care for it that much. I also feel immensely guilty about the extreme amount of red food coloring called for in the recipes I have seen.
So, I harrumphed and decided to make the Red Velvet for him (since I asked).
I had a Red Velvet recipe in a magazine my mom had purchased (for herself...somehow it ended up with my stuff...odd...) The author detailed how some recipes use a chocolate cake and simply add red food coloring, but that is not how true Red Velvet should be made. I figured, hey, she owns a pretty successful bakery, she probably knows.
There was still something bothering me, though. I didn't like the thought of using all that food coloring. Don't get me wrong, I use the stuff, but only about once a year at Christmas when we are decorating cut-out cookies. I decided to try to find out if there was a substitution I could use that wouldn't compromise the color or flavor. I found many chefs who don't like to use that much food coloring use an equal amount of cherry or blackberry juice is a substitute, so I decided to go compromise a bit. I used about 1/3 of the red food coloring called for and the rest I used cherry juice (I had some in the freezer) it worked great and looked great, too. I felt better about using the juice, and next time I will probably use all juice.
The cupcakes were, by the way, absolutely amazing. I think my husband ate three the first time around. They were tender, probably due to the inclusion of buttermilk, and flavorful, and the cream cheese frosting is just delicious. These are definitely a make again item.
I piped white chocolate lettering on some parchment just as an experiment, and that's what you see in the picture. You should definitely try these.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Makes about 20 cupcakes
1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons red food coloring, blackberry juice, or cherry juice
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups flour
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon high-fat cocoa powder such as hershey’s special dark

Preheat oven to 350. Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, combine oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.
With the mixer on low, add dry ingredients to the wet ½ cup at a time. Do this slowly so that the batter doesn’t develop clumps.
Transfer batter to lined muffin pans, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Frosting: (double batch)

8 oz unsalted butter, softened
16 oz cream cheese, softened
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and cream cheese until soft and smooth, about 2 minutes. With mixer on low, add powdered sugar ½ cup at a time. Add vanilla and mix on medium speed.

Use white chocolate or white melting chocolate for lettering.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

You decide

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, that great ethnic holiday that reaches way back into Mexican culture and celebrates Mexican independence, I decided to post about fish tacos. Now, these tacos are about as ethnic as Cinco de Mayo. While these tacos are Mexican in origin, somewhere along the way they became American fare and lost most of their roots, and this is just the way I make them.
I first had fish tacos in the beautiful ocean side city, Ensenada, and they were amazing. The fish was fresh and fried crispy. I think it had a cornmeal batter, but honestly I can't remember. I really don't remember anything about them except that they were good. It was over ten years ago so give me some slack.
Let me say this, if you haven't had fish tacos your missing out. I made them a few months ago and my father-in-law had them for the first time. He was a little hesitant, but quickly fell for them the way I did. My husband asks for them constantly and the kids love them. Serve them with rice or beans or both and you have a complete meal.
Another nice thing about this is a little goes a long way. Its a great way to make fish because you only need about 4 oz per person. The important things are these: 1. Cilantro. Makes sure you have some to sprinkle on the tacos. 2. Cabbage. Fresh cabbage. You can use red or green,  but just make sure it is fresh and firm. Otherwise, it will be bitter. 3. Corn tortillas. You can use flour but I feel like this is a deal breaker. 4. Lots of fresh lime juice. You will use some in the amazing white sauce that you will make for these and I like to have several wedges for each person to add to their tacos if they desire.
So, the way I am going to write out this recipe is in approximate servings for 4 people. This is easily doubled, tripled, or quadrupled, and I am sure you will take advantage of that fact as I have. Also, people tend to eat more of this than they should, so if you are making this for four large males, I would probably double it just to be safe.

Fish Tacos
1 lb fresh, white fish (tilapia, sole, cod, etc) cut into 1 inch strips
Cornmeal batter or beer batter (available at the grocery store, or make your own)
1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
2 limes, cut into wedges (not sure how...see bottom)
12 corn tortillas
White sauce (recipe follows)

Coat the fish with desired batter. Fry in about 1 inch of oil over medium heat until golden, 2-3 minutes per side. Drain on a paper towel lined plate. Meanwhile, heat the corn tortillas in a dry pan over medium-high heat for 20-30 seconds on each side, just until soft. I like to serve this buffet-style, with the other listed ingredients in bowls so each person can make their own tacos.

White Sauce
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon crushed oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon lime juice

Combine ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and whisk until smooth.

How to cut limes (or lemons or oranges for that matter)
Hold the lime by the two stem ends. Slice parallel to your hand. Take halves and lay them face down on the cutting board. Slice each one into three wedges, with the stem in the middle of the middle wedge.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A matter of taste

I think its funny how your tastes change as you age. When I was young I loved mayonnaise, sausage, over-easy eggs, and ham and cheese sandwiches with ungodly amounts of mustard (only the sandwiches had mustard). I liked American cheese slices, hard boiled eggs on my salads, plain tuna, and well-done steak. When I was a little older, I didn't like mayo, sausage, over-easy eggs or very much mustard. Then it changed, and I liked them again. I still don't care for American cheese, hard boiled eggs (unless their deviled), plain tuna or well done steak. A few things, I didn't like as a child and I still don't like today, like cottage cheese. I think its my nemesis. For whatever reason I just can't stand the texture.
Lately, I have been having a renewed affair with sausage. I purchased some Evergood Louisiana style hot links and stashed them in the freezer. They are great fried up and tossed with spaghetti, butter, and parmesan cheese for a quick and easy dinner. I also like them cut up and scrambled with eggs and potatoes for breakfast burritos, or just a skillet-type breakfast.
Another easy dinner, that I had completely forgotten about, is chicken and sausage. You put some mixed chicken parts in a pan with sausage, add some onions, mustard, salt and pepper, and roast for about an hour. You can fix up a side while its in there cooking, and its very flavorful and absolutely delicious. I used Aidells chicken and apple sausage (really flavorful and delicious) and some chicken thighs I had in the freezer. I think this is great with Jasmine rice, or mashed potatoes. Its also nice if you have a big family, or you are having guests, because its so hands-off but you can double it and feed a crowd. The skins get nice and crispy, and so do the sausages. My boys (husband included) couldn't get enough. I will definitely be making this again, soon.

Sage Chicken and Sausages
serves 6
2 small onions
1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon or deli style mustard
1 Tablespoon dried sage
1 lemon
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 lbs chicken, cut into 8 pieces
6 sausages (as previously mentioned I think these are great)
2 Tablespoons chopped sage leaves

Combine oil, mustard, dried sage, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, the lemon juice (save the squeezed out rinds) and the Worcestershire. Peel and cut the onion into eighths, and place that, along with the squeezed out lemon rinds and the chicken, skin side up, in a large baking dish and pour over the marinade. Set at room temperature for 45 mins (or, you can put it all in the pan and leave it for a few hours in the fridge or overnight).
Preheat the oven to 425. Add the sausages and sprinkle on the chopped sage leaves, and salt and pepper the chicken. Cook for 1 hour, 15 minutes, turning the sausages over halfway through to color them evenly.

(If your not a big fan of sausages, you could just leave them out. The dish is still delicious.)

This is also absolutely amazing  grilled. You can take it with you to a cookout or camping, and it is a flavorful alternative to hamburgers or ordinary BBQ chicken. Just combine all the ingredients in a Ziploc bag and store in the refrigerator until about 30 minutes before grill time!

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